Detroit: I Do Mind Dying

A Study In Urban Revolution Foreword by Manning Marable, by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, 2012 Haymarket Books, Third Edition.  Written for POCO!

This is the most comprehensive account I know of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and like minded organizations both in Detroit and around the U$ in the 1960s and ’70s.  In Manning Marable’s Foreword, other groups such as militant Black autoworkers from New Jersey in the United Black Brothers and Black steelworkers in Maryland organized as the Shipyard Workers for Job Equality from the 1960s and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists from the 1970s are mentioned, followed by the story of the launch of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) by militant participants in a 1968 wildcat strike in Detroit against the Dodge Main plant, and the spread of other Revolutionary Union Movement groups not only in Detroit, but also with autoworkers in California and Maryland, and steelworkers in Alabama.  Marable goes on to describe the Detroit-based RUMs forming the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and its 1970 split.

The Preface to the Third Edition gives 2012 statistics of Detroit, dispels the myth that the League had simply been an out growth of the 1967 Great Rebellion in Detroit by explaining the core members’ pre-Rebellion activism, and gives United Auto Workers (UAW) 2012 statistics in relation to their standing in the 1970s.

The Introduction to the First Edition gives more background information on the city of Detroit, which was the fifth largest city in the U$ at the time, in 1975.  Sources for the book are explained, which included both original materials and extensive interviews.

James Johnson:  A Prologue follows with the story of a Black auto worker who shot two foremen and a jobsetter, killing two of them, after being fired earlier that day in 1970.  His attorney, Kenneth Cockrel, was in the Executive Committee of the League and successfully defended him.

Chapter one is largely about the Inner City Voice (ICV), a Detroit Black newspaper started by veterans of such organizations as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the all Black Freedom Now Party, UHURU, Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) amongst others, and went to print in October 1967.  Monthly printings for the next year averaged 10,000 copies!  The ICV group went on to change to DRUM after the 4,000 strong 1968 wildcat.

Chapter two describes Chrysler business statistics, models, engineering, working conditions and union affairs to set the context for the work of DRUM.

Chapter three starts off with statistics of Wayne State University, where revolutionaries from ICV and DRUM went on to take over the school paper, the South End, which had a daily run of 18,000 and had a payroll!

The initial formation of a local Black Panther Party chapter by the ICV and DRUM membership is also covered, as is local oppression of the Republic of New Africa, and their fighting back.

Chapter four outlines the spread of various RUMs and the formation of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in depth.  Different people, ideas and campaigns are outlined, especially the League’s involvement with the Black Economic Development Conference (BEDC) which had a great deal to do with bringing James Forman of SNCC into the league’s fold.

Chapter five deals largely with working conditions and how race was involved at the Chrysler Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle plant, and the work of the Eldon Revolutionary Union Movement (ELRUM).

Chapter six is largely about the making of a documentary about the League, Finally Got the News, with the Newsreel Collective, and not only how it fit into Detroit’s culture of music and art, but also the League’s special attention to the arts produced by its own membership.

Chapter seven deals with the Black Workers Congress (BWC) which was an attempt to spread the League’s model into a national organization.  The organization’s split is also covered.

Chapter eight backtracks to the Great Rebellion, and continues to backtrack in Michigan history to its beginnings in the slave-free Northwest Territory to give proper historical context to understand both racism and the Black struggle for freedom there.  The chapter is largely about a Detroit police crack squad called Stop Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS) which operated with such ruthlessness that even at one point some of its members shot four deputies and got away with it, in an incident which went on to be known as the Rochester Street Massacre in 1972.

Chapter nine is largely about the election of Marxist Justin Ravitz Judge of Recorder’s Court, and how it fit into Cockrel and his comrades’ election strategy.

Chapter ten begins with the rundown of wildcat strikes that shut down three Chrysler plants in the summer of ’73.  It goes on the describe the radical white movement’s turn towards labor from academia, and the ’73 contract negotiations between Chrysler and the UAW.  Progressive litigation in regard to race and other labor struggles are descried along with urban renewal in Detroit.

Chapter eleven is an add on about thirty years later from the Second Edition.  The roots of the League are reiterated, as the state of capitalism and union struggles in the 1990s U$, and how urban renewal played out in Detroit is described.

There’s also an added on twelfth chapter with the biographical updates of four different people to represent the ongoing legacy of DRUM.


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